Prepare to enter the United States

When planning to come to the U.S. remember that you are not allowed to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before your program start date listed on your I-20. Before booking travel to the U.S. you must receive a Form I-20, pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee and apply for and receive a U.S. visa (if applicable). A visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The visa allows you to travel to a U.S. Port of Entry where the Customs and Border Patrol officials have the authority to permit or deny your admission to the U.S.

You are expected to have your original Form I-20 with your ink signature and a DSO signature on hand as you enter the country. When you arrive at a U.S. Port of Entry, you should be prepared to present the additional documents:

  • Valid passport
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee payment receipt
  • Valid visa (if applicable)
  • Admission/acceptance letters from school
  • Documented proof of financial support
  • Address of where you will stay in the U.S.

These documents should be easily accessible. Keep them on your person, either in your carry on or personal item, not in your luggage.

If you arrive at the U.S. Port of Entry without the necessary paperwork, a CBP official may issue you a Form I-515A. If this happens, please contact our office, and we will give you additional instructions.

International Travel

When you are traveling internationally, you should always have all of your immigration documents with you. These documents include passport, visa, and I-20. All your documents should be valid, and unexpired.

Before leaving the U.S. make sure to get your I-20 signed on page 2 by a DSO at International Services. This signature is a travel endorsement, saying that you are allowed to leave and reenter the U.S. The signature is good for one year.

When you are traveling internationally, you should not be out of the country for more than 5 months. This is known as the five-month rule.

Five-Month Rule

When traveling outside the U.S. you should plan to be gone for less than 5 months. If you are outside for more than 5 months your I-20 will be terminated. If this is the case, you will need to apply for a new I-20 and will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again.

Renewing Visa

You are permitted to stay in the U.S. when your visa is expired as long as your I-20 and Passport are valid. If you are traveling outside the U.S. on an expired visa, you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. embassy before returning to the U.S. Visas can only be renewed outside the U.S.

Traveling with Pending Applications

International Services strongly recommends that you do not travel outside the U.S. while an application is pending with the government. Many times, this is viewed as an abandonment of the application, and they will deny it immediately. This would include applications such as I-485 (green card/permanent residency) and I-539 (change of status).

Travel OPT/Stem

You are eligible to depart and re-enter the U.S. while on OPT or STEM Extension with proper documentation:

  • Current passport (valid for six months from the date of re-entry),
  • An I-20 with a travel signature no more than 6 months old,
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp,
  • EAD Card, and
  • Job offer letter or letter that verifies employment.

Dates of travel outside of the United States while employed may not count as days of unemployment. If you are traveling outside of the U.S. for vacation or business while continuing to be employed, the dates outside the U.S. do not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment.

Driver’s License

Driving in the U.S. without a driver’s license is illegal. In order to get a U.S. driver’s license, you must apply for one at the DMV in Rexburg. Some foreign driver’s licenses will still be valid while you are in the U.S. Contact the DMV to find out more.